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A revolutionary satellite that will reveal celestial bodies in a new light and the “Moon Sniper” lunar lander took off Wednesday night.
The Japan Space Agency’s launch, which has been rescheduled several times due to bad weather, took place aboard an H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center at 7:42 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, or 8:42 a.m. JST on Thursday.
The event was broadcast live on JAXA’s YouTube channel, broadcast in both English and Japanese.
The XRISM (pronounced “crisis”) satellite, also called the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a joint mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, with participation from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
An artist’s rendering shows what XRISM will look like once it reaches orbit.
And along for the ride is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s SLIM vehicle, or Smart Lander to explore the moon. This small-scale exploration lander is designed to demonstrate “marked” landings at a specified location within a distance of 100 meters (328 feet), rather than the typical kilometer range, by relying on high-precision landing technology. The accuracy led to the mission’s nickname, Moon Sniper.
The satellite and its instruments will monitor the hottest regions in the universe, the largest structures and objects with the strongest gravity, according to NASA. XRISM will detect X-ray light, a wavelength invisible to humans.
Study of stellar explosions and black holes
X-rays are released from some of the most energetic objects and events in the universe, which is why astronomers want to study them.
“Some of the things we hope to study with XRISM include the effects of stellar explosions and jets of near-light-velocity particles fired by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies,” said Richard Kelly, principal investigator for XRISM at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. in Greenbelt, Maryland in a statement. “But of course, we are very excited about all the unexpected phenomena that XRISM will discover as it observes our universe.”
Compared to other wavelengths of light, X-rays are so short that they pass through dish-shaped mirrors that monitor and collect visible, infrared and ultraviolet light such as the James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes.
With that in mind, XRISM contains thousands of individual, curved interfering mirrors that are better designed for X-ray detection. The satellite will need to calibrate for a few months once it reaches orbit. The mission is designed to run for three years.
XRISM contains two special mirror arrays for X-ray detection.
The satellite can detect X-rays with energy ranging from 400 to 12,000 electronvolts, which far exceeds the energy of visible light at 2 to 3 electronvolts, according to NASA. This detection range will allow the study of cosmological extremes across the universe.
The satellite carries two tools called Resolve and Xtend. Resolve tracks small shifts in temperature that help it determine the source, composition, motion, and physical condition of the X-rays. Resolve operates at -459.58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 273.10 degrees Celsius), about 50 times colder than the temperature of deep space, thanks to a refrigerator-sized container of liquid helium.
This instrument will help astronomers uncover cosmic mysteries such as the chemical details of the hot, glowing gas within galaxy clusters.
“XRISM’s Resolve tool will allow us to delve deeper into the composition of cosmic X-ray sources to a degree that has not been possible before,” Kelly said. “We expect many new insights into the hottest objects in the universe, which include exploding stars, black holes, the galaxies they operate in, and galaxy clusters.”
At the same time, Xtend XRISM will provide one of the largest fields of view on an X-ray satellite.
“The spectra XRISM collects will be the most detailed we’ve ever seen for some of the phenomena we will observe,” Brian Williams, NASA’s XRISM project scientist at Goddard, said in a statement. “The mission will provide us with insight into some of the most difficult places to study, such as the inner structures of neutron stars and the near-lightspeed particle jets powered by black holes in active galaxies.”
Meanwhile, SLIM will use its propulsion system to head toward the Moon. The spacecraft will reach lunar orbit about three to four months after launch, orbit the moon for one month, and begin descent and attempt a soft landing four to six months after launch. If the lander is successful, the technology demonstration will also briefly study the lunar surface.
The flight model of the Intelligent Lunar Investigation Lander can be seen at the Tanegashima Space Center.
Unlike other recent lander missions aimed at the lunar south pole, SLIM is targeting a site near a small lunar impact crater called Xiuli, near the Sea of Nectar, where it will investigate the formation of rocks that may help scientists uncover their origins from the Moon. The landing site is just south of the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 landed near the Moon’s equator in 1969.
After the United States, the former Soviet Union and China, India became the fourth country to carry out a controlled landing on the moon when its Chandrayaan-3 mission reached near the moon’s south pole on August 23. Previously, Japan’s Ispace company’s Hakuto-R lunar lander fell 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) before crashing into the moon during a landing attempt in April.
The SLIM probe contains vision-based navigation technology. Achieving a precise landing on the moon is a major goal of JAXA and other space agencies.
Resource-rich regions, such as the moon’s south pole and permanently shaded regions filled with water ice, also present a number of hazards with craters and rocks. Future missions will need to be able to land in a narrow area to avoid these features.
SLIM also has a lightweight design that could be convenient as agencies plan more frequent missions and exploration of moons around other planets such as Mars. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency asserts that if Project SLIM is successful, it will shift missions from “landing where we can to landing where we want.”